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What to Do With Unwanted Gift Cards

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If you can't use a gift card and don't want to shove it off on someone else, there are options besides letting it take up space in your wallet.

Getting Cash Back

You can always try to sell your card for free on Craigslist, or even on your Facebook page. Before you sell it, be mindful of where and how you do so: If you received the card from a Facebook friend, you may want to avoid selling it on your wall.

If you're willing to lose some of the card's value, but still get some cash back, Plastic Jungle and Swapagift.com will buy your gift card for 60 to 80 percent of its retail value. Plastic Jungle says that it pays out up to 92% of the verified balance and provides a prepaid shipping label for you to send in your card, so you won't have to spend extra time or money on mailing.

You'll need to become a registered member of these sites in order to use them. To avoid the annoyance of getting stuck on their mailing lists, simply unsubscribe after you've completed your transaction.

Re-Gifting

savings experiment gift cardsWhy not donate your card to charity, or give it to someone you know who's in need? American Express (AXP) and other credit cards often allow you to redeem rewards points for gift cards, which you can give to a favorite cause. Charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation will often accept unused gift cards as donations. Schools, community centers, synagogues, mosques, and churches can often use gift cards in raffle items as part of their fundraising drives.

Gift cards can also brighten the day of someone you know, like a coworker. It makes a nice, small surprise and sweetens an already thoughtful greeting card. Plus, re-gifting can be a win-win. Say you get a gift card for coffee, but have cut caffeine from your diet: Give it to a colleague, boss, or an intern who still enjoys their java.

Swapping Gift Cards

There are also great ways to trade in your gift cards. (Do read the fine print, as there may be listing fees.) Some places, like Plastic Jungle, will also offer other ways to convert a gift card's value towards other merchants' wares. You can also exchange your unwanted or partially used gift cards at Amazon.com (AMZN).

Giving Gift Cards

When selecting a gift card for someone you know, choose a store that they frequent. You might be surprised at how many local and major retailers offer gift cards, and how helpful it can be to use gift cards to supplement purchases of necessary items like groceries. For instance, Trader Joe's offers gift cards, which can be combined with cash at the checkout counter. You can also get a gift card for something a friend really wants but would never buy for themselves, like a massage at a spa such as Bliss Spa.

If you are buying a gift for someone you don't know, stick to major stores that offer more flexibility with expiration dates, such as The Gap (GPS). Gift cards from a chain like The Gap can be used online or at other stores owned by the same parent company, including Old Navy and Banana Republic. Sears's (SHLD) is another major retail chain that offers great deals on its eGift Cards. Plus they arrive by e-mail, in case you forgot someone's birthday and need a quick gift ASAP! Sears eGift Cards can be used online, over the phone, in any of the 2,000 Sears stores, and at Land's End and Kmart.

The Fine Print

A store-issued gift card tends to be a better deal than a bank-issued card. But wherever the card comes from -- be it a bank, chain, or local boutique -- always check the terms and conditions. When in doubt, ask if there are fees and expiration dates. Unsurprisingly, bank-issued gift cards tend to have more restrictions.

There are new laws that offer better protection for consumers, but bear in mind that regulations vary greatly from state to state. The Credit Card Act of 2009 protects gift cards for at least five years after the date they are issued; it also prevents monthly maintenance or dormancy fees, unless the card has been inactive for at least one year. Still, unused gift cards are considered abandoned property in over 35 states.

If You Snooze You Lose

There are approximately $30 billion in unused gift cards sitting in kitchens, wallets, car doors, and sock drawers. Consumer Reports found that gift cards go unused because 58% of consumers do not have time to shop, 35% said they did not find anything that they want to buy, 32% forgot about it, and 7% didn't redeem it in time or lost it! Don't be a statistic. According to Deloitte, retailers get a great deal when folks don't use their gift cards.

Remember, a present is a gift: If you don't think you can use it, give it someone who can, or redeem it for something you really want. When it comes to gift cards, use them or lose them.

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